ON THE PLATE: MUSHROOMS HELP BRIDGE THE SEASONAL DIVIDE
I had been saying to people that I’m going to change my middle name to mushroom because you just never know where I’ll pop up next!
I’ve had a new direction in my working life – but still hanging onto the things I’m passionate about. Food, music and memories of my Mum.
The season of autumn holds very strong memories for me of the sheer excitement of going out on a crisp, sunny autumn Sunday, early afternoon, Mum driving the old Zephyr Zodiac out along the Colac Highway to a particular spot.
We’d stop by the roadside, climb through the wires of the fence. There I was, a freckled 12-year-old, anticipating the thrill of the hunt for mushrooms.
I can clearly remember having to equip myself with a particular ivory handled bread and butter knife and a small cane
basket – my special “tools of the trade” that I would take each time when we went mushrooming.
You needed a keen eye to step carefully to avoid the cow pats while scouring the rough grass.
You also kept a watchful eye in case the farmer came over to ask what you were up to, or that there wasn’t a bull out
to pasture in that particular paddock! Of course, these aspects added a dimension of adventure to the whole expedition of gathering mushrooms!
Once home, Mum would carefully pick over the large black field mushrooms andwipe the tops with a clean tea towel. Never
wash a mushroom. And remember life’s too short to peel a mushroom, so don’t do that anymore.
The roughly chopped mushroom would be sautéed for a few minutes in a generous amount of butter, (Mum never skimped on butter with anything) and the short cooking time was enough for the juices to run to form a kind of sauce.
The cooked mushrooms were served on thick slices of hot toast. But that’s where I drew the line. I never ate them, yuk! I only liked gathering them, you see.
But now, well, one of my favourite ways to eat mushrooms is a quick recipe shared by Antonio Carluccio many years
ago in one of the cooking sessions in the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
Antonio was passionate about mushrooms and was the author of many books, including one exclusively on mushrooms.
My Mum was ever thrifty and like her I try not to waste anything, so if you have mushrooms that are a bit past their
peak, make them into what I call truffled mushrooms and use these on top of homemade pizzas, or through salads.
With the very slow cooking in this recipe you will find even rather bland button mushrooms end up looking like shavings
of black truffle, (which are wonderful, but an acquired taste, and an expensive treat), and the concentration of flavour in these slow-dried mushrooms is fantastic!
To make them, chop 400 gm button mushrooms – sliced very thinly, stalks removed into a small saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon water and on the lowest possible heat, gently and slowly cook the mushrooms until they shrivel and are almost bone dry. Stir them occasionally with a wooden spoon. This may take 25 minutes or more. They will keep in the refrigerator for several days. They’re great with a warm salad of chunky cut root vegetables, or on top of pan fried chicken, a barbecued steak or, if making homemade pizza, scatter them over the top for the last couple of minutes of cooking.
So Mum, thanks for the wonderfully memorable outings – and introducing me to mushrooms!